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A celebration of community: co-creating content that is both beautiful and true

6 November 2018

This year, as the UN celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, millions of older women and men still experience daily discrimination, abuse and violence. Their rights are denied, and their voices rarely heard.

For UN International Day of Older Persons (IDOP) on 1 October 2018, we wanted to celebrate the struggles and achievements of older human rights campaigners around the world. We didn’t have much budget, but we did have an impassioned and engaged global network.

Taking a global network approach

For IDOP 2018, with the UN focus on celebrating human rights champions, we wanted to support our partners not only to campaign, but to amplify the voice of ordinary older women and men who have over the past decade been standing up and speaking out against injustice, often at great personal cost and risk.

We wanted to share their moving ‘untold stories’ with a wider global public, but we had only a modest budget for communications. What we lacked in money, we more than made up for in human resourcefulness – our own small team in London, and our global network in 25 countries.

Just as HelpAge International supports communities to collectively campaign for change, the focus of our comms strategy was to encourage and empower lots of older people and network members to tell their own stories.

Moving pictures, but still…

After involving our team and partners around the world over the summer, we developed a simple concept that would translate into various contexts and languages. We put together a set of questions and engaged our project officers and partners to interview as many older campaigners as they could and take their photos in a natural setting.

We were keen that it would not simply be about collecting case studies, but part of a long-term collaborative process, nurturing relationships with our campaigners, and giving them space and time to tell their own stories. In the past, there has been tendency by NGOs to selectively quote and frame narratives and images for our own agendas. We wanted their personal, unique and sometimes idiosyncratic experience to come through strongly, accompanied by translation and lightweight editing.

We decided early on to use still photos rather than video, partly because of cost, the inconsistency of quality and style, and the sheer logistical challenge of editing, subtitling and uploading. We also felt video may not fairly convey views of older people as well as text and photos.

Having collected the interviews, we uploaded each on our website and linked all of them to a new dedicated photowall webpage – with responsive blocks of square photos and hover caption. The week before IDOP, even though it was incomplete, we shared it with staff, network members, national and global media, bloggers, stakeholders and influencers, requesting them to use them alongside our campaign and social media toolkit.

As IDOP 2018 dawned across successive time-zones, our partners and influencers shared the stories far and wide through media and social networks. It was a real celebration of community – people around the world coming together to support each other in solidarity. We spent £500 on the website and £50 on a Facebook boost, and a lot of time, sweat and inspiration!

But by midday, we realised we had a few issues. With 26 high-quality photos now in the wall, load times on Android mobiles were slow. Just as annoying for us, though not necessarily for most users, the fixed order of photos in the wall meant the same few faces were appearing at the top, and we had to scroll down for the others, going completely against our UN-endorsed principles to leave no one behind.

Fortunately, we anticipated amending the site post-launch and both these issues were easily solved with a quick call to our trusty web developer. They added random selection of six photos which would be served each time the web was accessed, with a big button below to ‘Load more’. This enabled faster loading and a new selection of stories every time – though meant we needed to develop a searchable index to keep track of everyone.

While we are still evaluating the outcomes and impact of the campaign, we have been surprised and delighted at the popularity of the photo wall, as well as the tremendous engagement with the global campaign activities on social media. But more important than likes, shares and comments, we feel is the quality and power of the stories themselves.

We wanted to challenge stereotypes of older people as passive and dependent victims of abuse or recipients of aid and provide a platform for their stories, in their own words. They are not just another face in the photo wall.

Each story is unique and personal, and together they show how individual and collective action has achieved great strides. They also highlight the huge challenges we still face – but together, can overcome. Through collaboration, and powerful human stories, older people’s voices are finally being heard, bringing universal human rights a step closer.

Untold no longer… so what next?

So what now for the ‘untold stories’ now they have been well and truly told? In the spirit of collaboration, we want our partners and older campaigners themselves to evaluate the content, and suggest future directions. We always wanted the pages and photo wall to have a life beyond IDOP 2018, and we are open to ideas on how to develop it further – so if you have any ideas – please email me.

Image: HelpAge International
Banner Image: Louis Maniquet on Unsplash

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Putting your subject first, the key to effective co-creation

Patrick Wilson

head of communications and digital, HelpAge International

Patrick Wilson is head of communications and digital at HelpAge International, a global network of organisations working with and for older people. Before joining HelpAge in 2017, he worked over 20 years leading communications and public engagement for universities, research institutes and environmental charities.